Dawson and I recently had the chance to get out to the CZO field site in Valles Caldera, NM; we were taking some pre-monsoon samples of the site that was burned in a wildfire last summer. We piled ourselves, eight coolers, hundreds of plastic bags and falcon tubes, shovels, GPS, flags, food, and other various gear into Dawson’s car and drove the 8 hours from Tucson to northern New Mexico. It was a long drive, but with the help of “The Monkeywrench Gang” by Edward Abbey and a stop to eat some delicious Hatch chiles, it went fairly quickly. The scenery was beautiful and we arrived to our cute cabin just as it was getting dark.
The next morning we woke up early and made the hour long trek on the rock and dirt road to Redondo Peak, one of the places that had been burned one year prior and our study site. The road up was almost overrun with Aspen trees, which are traditionally one of the first species to succeed an area after a wildfire. This was the spot where we would take our samples, with the purpose of characterizing the enzyme activity, community composition (using DNA extractions), and microbial biomass. Dr. Jon Chorover and, the incredible field tech, Mark Losleben helped us get started on digging our pits. This turned out to be quite an arduous process. We used shovels, and often a crowbar, to hack at the ground until we reached 40cm–on numerous occassions we would end up prying massive rocks out of the ground, or even hacking roots up to reach the necessary depth. There were six depth intervals from which we took soil samples, and there were 25 sites to be sampled from. Let’s just say that it ended up being quite the workout. A routine set in quickly: dig a pit, gather bags and falcon tubes, sample at each depth and seal in bags/tubes, re-fill pit, gather equipment, move on the next site. Some sites were rocky, other still pure black carbon (ash) from the burn, and some were layers of roots all snarled together. It was pretty exciting just to see the variety of sites, soil profiles, and the regrowth from the previous year.
We did this for two full days, and the last day decided to “beast it out,” and with the help of Jon Chorover and Mark Losleben again, we completed 11 sites on the last morning. After that, we packed up our nearly overflowing coolers with all 157 soil samples in Ziploc bags, as well as the additional 157 falcon tubes housing the soil samples for DNA extraction. After leaving the Valles Caldera and heading back through the red rocks of Jemez Springs, we filled the coolers with ice and drove straight to Tucson–the monsoon clouds chasing us the whole way. It was a great to be home, but the study site was so beautiful that it was still a bit sad to leave. Now we are on the processing phase–finished with sieving and separating soil for the Microbial and Biogeochem constituents, onto DNA extractions, choloroform fumigation for microbial biomass, and enzyme assays.
All in all, it was an extremely successful and fun trip! We learned an insane amount about field work, worked out butts off, and are now back to our typical lab rat lives. 🙂